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Crosposted from UNBOSSED

Well, this is good news:

A federal judge has blocked a British mining company from exploring for uranium near the Grand Canyon, agreeing with environmental groups which sued the U.S. Forest Service for approving the plan without full environmental reviews.

At issue was a controversial plan by the Forest Service to allow uranium drilling just two miles from the canyon.  The British company VANE wanted to drill at 39 sites across seven locations on the south side of the canyon.  The Forest Service used a process known as "categorical exclusion", first introduced by the Bush Administration in 2006 to make its decision.  That was a mistake.

"Categorical Exclusion" means that the land management agencies can exclude, at will, certain actions from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). "Categorical Exclusion" also reworked the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976. NFMA has long governed federal forest management.  Both NEPA and NFMA require comprehensive environmental analyses and public involvement in the development of plans that impact how our nation's forests are managed.  Essentially, as with everything in the Bush Administration, Categorical Exclusion means that laws dont have to be followed.

U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia said that the Forest Service mis-used Categorical Exclusion when they failed to take into account the nearby national park, the cumulative effects of an additional mine (there are four others located close by) and the controversial nature of the drilling. She also told the Forest Service that they must take public comment.

"She basically told the Forest Service that uranium mining and exploration near the Grand Canyon, two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the park, is not routine, not non-controversial and they misused the categorical exclusion,"

As I've noted before, NEPA is a vital, if much maligned, tool in our land management process.  NEPA requires Environmental analysis to ensure careful science in the planning process.  It also affords opportunity for citizens to participate in and comment on management decisions that affect public lands. Categorical Exclusion has taken that all away.

The Bush Administration claims that this will streamline the planning process and work as a cost cutter.  In fact, just the opposite has occured as citizen organizations have fought back against this un-democratic power grab.  In early February, the Coconino County Commission passed a resolution opposing the mine.  That kind of stuff needs to be taken into account.

It is worth noting that the Forest Service has little power to deny development under the 1872 Mining Law - a mess that I will be dealing with in future posts. That said, the 1872 law does is not in conflict with the separate obligation under NEPA to carry out comprehensive public and environmental reviews.

Hooray for Judge Muguia!  She took one look at Categorical Exlcusion and tossed it in the can.  Lets all hope for more of this kind of thinking from our judges.

Originally posted to environmentalist on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 10:37 AM PDT.

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